WASHINGTON – Jeanette Pearson, a homeless woman who lives in a Washington, D.C., shelter, knows she is being exploited, but she's got a warm fur coat, and for that she's willing to make the trade-off.
"It's all politics, but it's warm politics," she said Thursday while bundling her arms inside an old rabbit fur coat speckled with red paint from an old People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demonstration.
Pearson, homeless since December, is not afraid that the uncompromising animal-rights group will further vandalize her slightly used jacket. They gave it to her.
"The only people who have any excuse to wear coats made of dead animal fur are the homeless. They don't have an option," said Jay Kelly, a PETA coordinator who oversaw the giveaway Thursday on the corner of Constitution Avenue, a stone's throw away from the Capitol and three D.C. homeless shelters.
Each year in a number of inner cities, PETA gives to homeless people all the coats and jackets it collects from former fur-wearers. No lectures, no strings attached.
The gesture, while a boon for the homeless, has elicited guffaws from some who say the group is exploiting humans in their quest to quash the exploitation of animals.
"They're not only politically correct in espousing their own issue but they're also latching on to another politically correct cause, the homeless. But the problem of homelessness is a lot more complex than that," said Steve Lilienthal of the Free Congress Foundation, who described PETA's outreach as "a double" in political correctness.
PETA representatives, however, deny their actions are anything more than an effort to help people in need.
"These are people who are struggling to survive and to stay warm this winter," Kelly said. "We can't bring these animals back. But we feel like it's a positive event all the way around."
As for the homeless, who stood around in unseasonably warm weather Thursday to claim dibs on the coats, they say they don't care whether PETA uses them for the publicity. Nor do they worry themselves over PETA's cause in the first place.
"I don't care much about the animals – they've been (wearing fur) from the beginning of time," said Louie Lawson, who has been homeless for four years and is now living at one of the local shelters.
"Are we being exploited? Yeah," Pearson said, giving a nod to the television cameras gathered to document PETA's fur giveaway. "But I'm going to be warm. These people are taking these coats and wrapping them around them like comforters in the middle of the night."